Defamation in Singapore: A Quick Overview

Written by Team Farallon

  • Farallon Law Corporation
  • April 24, 2018

Defamation is a statement that injures a third party’s reputation.

The tort of defamation includes both libel (written statements) and slander (spoken statements).

The term “libel” is derived from the latin word “libellus” which means “small book or booklet”.

How to Successfully Sue a Defamation Lawsuit in Singapore

To win a defamation case, a plaintiff must show four things:

  • a false statement purporting to be fact (this can be spoken or published);
  • publication or communication of that statement to a third person (if it is not published to the recipient, this is insufficient);
  • fault; and damages, or some harm caused to the person or entity who is subject of the statement. Such harm is most of the time reputational harm, which could lead to financial loss or loss of opportunities.

Proof of Damages in Defamation

In a claim for libel, damage is presumed to have occurred and it is not necessary for the plaintiff to prove any actual damage to his reputation. In slander, however, damage is generally not presumed and therefore slander is not actionable per se unless the plaintiff can show that he has suffered actual damage. This in many instances is usually extremely difficult to prove. There are four exceptions to the rule that slander is not actionable per se.

These are:

where the words impute a crime for which the punishment that the plaintiff may be subject to is physical in nature, for example, imprisonment;

where the words impute to the plaintiff a contagious or infectious disease;

where the words are calculated to disparage the plaintiff in any office, profession, calling, trade or business held or carried on by him at the time of publication; and

where the words impute unchastity or adultery to any woman or girl.

Quantification of Damages for Defamation

In assessing the appropriate damages to be awarded on a case of defamation, the following factors would be taken by the Court into consideration:

  • the nature of the defamation – how serious and offensive the defamatory words were;
  • the standing of the parties – the reputations of the plaintiff and the defendant are important and the Court has to factor this in;
  • the mode and extent of publication of the defamatory statements – any statements which are published to the public, especially on the internet, would attract a larger amount of damages. Statements published to one or two persons would be less serious;
  • the conduct of the parties – whether the statements were repeated, and whether the defendant was recalcitrant and refused to apologise are important factors showing that aggravated damages are payable; and
  • the effect of the defamation on the plaintiff – if the plaintiff can show that he or she suffered financial and/or loss of reputation, the Court would award a greater amount of damages.


Damages for Defamation


We set out below some defamation cases heard in the Singapore High Court since 1989 where awards for general damages have been awarded to defendants.

Year            Name of Case                                                                        Citation         Damages Awarded

1989            Lee Kuan Yew v Davies & Ors                                             [1989] SLR 1063   S$230,000

1992            Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin v Lee Kuan Yew              [1992] 2 SLR 310   S$260,000

1994            Overseas-Chinese Banking Corp Ltd v Wright                 [1994] 3 SLR 760   S$50,000

1995            Sin Heak Hin Pte Ltd & Anor v Yuasa Battery                   [1995] 3 SLR 590  S$100,000

1995            Chiam See Tong v Xin Zhang Jiang                                   [1995] 3 SLR 196     S$50,000

1996            Chiam See Tong v Ling How Doong & Ors                       [1997] 1 SLR 648    S$120,000

1997            Tang Liang Hong v Lee Kuan Yew & Anor                        [1998] 1 SLR 97      S$60,000 – S$270,000

1998            Goh Chok Tong v Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin            [1998] 3 SLR 337   S$100,000

1999            A Balakrishnan & Ors v Nirumalan K Pillay & Ors            [1999] 3 SLR 22  S$30,000

1999            Cristofori Music Pte Ltd v Robert Piano Co Pte Ltd          [2000] 3 SLR 503  S$50,000

2001            Arul Chandran v Chew Chin Aik Victor JP                         [2001] 1 SLR 505  S$150,000

2003            Ei-Nets Ltd and another v Yeo Nai Meng                           [2003] SGCA 48   S$80,000

2005            Lee Kuan Yew v Chee Soon Juan                                      [2005] SGHC 2   S$200,000

2005            Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan                                    [2005] SGHC 3  S$300,000

2017             Yap Sing Lee v Lim Tat                                                        [2017] SGDC 233   S$24,000

2018            Ma Kar Sui Anthony v Yap Sing Lee                                 [2018] SGHC 30   S$35,000

If you have been defamed, you need to consult a competent lawyer to advise you on your options to recover damages, and/or put a stop to the defamatory actions to protect you or your business reputation.

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